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Supreme Court considers Obamacare constitutionality

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for three days last week on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly refered to as Obamacare. The historic debate consisted of two primary issues argued in front of the Court.

“The first critical issue is the individual mandate, which requires that individuals who are not currently apart of an insurance policy or health plan purchase their own insurance,” said Jane Bolin, associate professor and department chair of health policy and management at the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

If uninsured, individuals can purchase private insurance or insurance through the exchanges that are being set up through either the state or federal government. Under the legislation, an individual’s failure to comply would result in a fine from the IRS. The Court decided Friday whether it would uphold the constitutionality of the individual mandate requiring every citizen to purchase health insurance, but the results will not be released to the public until the end of the term in June.

“The primary focus of what Congress intends to do is to increase the pool of those that are purchasing insurance … thereby reducing individual premiums,” Bolin said. “The individual mandate is something that Congress hopes will spread the risk.”

The vote to uphold or strike down the individual mandate is expected to split 5-4, one way or the other. Bolin said Justice John Roberts appears to be the swing vote.

A&M students had varying opinions of the healthcare legislation and the constitutionality of its specific measures. Junior anthropology major Shay King said the federal government shouldn’t have so much involvement in the individual’s life.

“I think it would be more in the realm of what the state has control over and not the federal government,” King said.

Freshman radiological health engineering major Todd Schulze is also opposed to government-run insurance cooperatives.

“I’d rather be able to look at different policies and compare and pick one that is the best for me than be given one by the government,” Schulze said.

Another aspect of Obamacare that was challenged by the states is the mandatory expansion of the boundaries for Medicaid eligibility. The law requires states to expand their Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The official poverty guideline for a family of four in 2012 is $23,050. At 133 percent, the bracket increases to any family who makes below $30,657. This could potentially bankrupt state budgets, especially if the individual insurance mandate is removed.

 “There will be more people that can afford [healthcare] and it will create an overload of an already stressed healthcare system,” Stuart Lyda, sophomore business administration major, said about the expansion of Medicaid.

“I don’t think there is enough money.”

On the other side, however, many believe health care is and should be a right for every citizen, and is something that we all need.

“It is not a choice whether or not we will need health care. It is only a matter of time. If you choose to wait until you need it and it is a catastrophic injury … you almost always go bankrupt,” said Bolin. “The rationale of Congressmen is, since everyone will eventually need healthcare, we are going to require everyone to pay for insurance now.”

Bolin said early on education was chosen as a public good and there has been an ongoing debate about access to healthcare as a public good, but it was decided it would be a private good based on the free enterprise system.

Autumn Autrey, a doctoral student of counseling psychology, supports the socialist model of healthcare and believes that healthcare should be available for everyone.

“One-quarter of Senior citizens in rural areas haven’t seen a dentist in a year. There needs to be some kind of standardization, because people are dying,” Autrey said.

She said she strongly feels people with the luxury of good healthcare shouldn’t be able to choose a system that gives them an unfair advantage.

“It is a violation of human rights more so than it is unconstitutional for socialized healthcare,” Autrey said.

The question is what happens next in the process. There are four possible outcomes: the Court could rule the mandate as constitutional and the law would continue to go into effect; the mandate alone could be repealed and Congress would need to amend the law; the entire law could be scrapped; or multiple provisions could be repealed.

“The individual mandate is very polarizing and there is a swing vote in the Supreme Court … it could go either way,” Bolin said.

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